Police in B.C. say they’re increasingly concerned over the growing number — and aggressive tone — of telephone and online scam artists in the province.
The most common of these schemes, known as the “CRA scam,” sees fraudsters phone their targets and pretend to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
The scammers will tell targets they’re late on taxes or have other financial trouble, and threaten them with frozen assets or arrest if they don’t immediately send cash, Bitcoins or prepaid gift or credit cards.
LISTEN: Scammers growing increasingly brazen
Const. Gary O’Brien with the Nanaimo RCMP told CKNW’s Back on the Beat that the number of reports his detachment is getting has reached staggering levels — and that the scammers are using increasingly violent language.
“Switchboard operators are recieving anywhere from 40 to 50 calls a day from terrified people from somebody purporting to be from the CRA threatening them with jail, arrests, seizing their assets,” he said.
“And they’ve stepped it up now with the fact they’re saying they will blow up their house, and harm their family if they don’t pay the money immediately.”
On Friday, Victoria police warned of a twist on the scam that may be a Canadian first, in which someone claiming to be from the CRA showed up at a woman’s door with handcuffs and threatened to arrest her.
She slammed the door and called police.
Victoria police spokesperson Bowen Oskoko said it’s just one sign of the increasingly brazen tactics the scammers are using.
WATCH: CRA scams spread around tax time
He recounted another incident in which a would-be victim came into the Victoria Police Department while on the phone with a scammer. He passed the phone off to an officer, who was shocked at what the scammer said to him.
“Then when the officer said, ‘This guy’s in a police station, the jig is up, we’re coming for you,’ the scammer’s response was to say, ‘Now that I know your name, officer, I’m going to start using it for my next scam call.”
Osoko warned that scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and doing research on their victims down to name, address or other identifying information.
He cited a case of a woman who was contacted by a fake Victoria police officer asking for detailed personal information, after telling her there was an investigation into her husband’s death.
LISTEN: What new techniques are scammers using?
Osoko said the scammer threatened her with charges if she didn’t comply. Police later determined the scammer had likely gotten her information from her husband’s recent obituary.
“The scammers are trying to make the scams more targeted. And they seem to be starting to access online information or other registry information,” he said.
The so-called “virtual kidnapping” scheme, in which fraudsters coerce victims into going into hiding while telling their families they’ve been abducted has also reared its head several times in the last year.
While overall crime rates in Canada are dropping, fraud incidences are on the rise.
Statistics Canada says there were more than 108,000 cases of fraud in 2016, up from about 79,000 in 2012. The data is not broken down by type of fraud.
“Overall the fraud numbers have been going up for about the past three years,” said Jeff Thompson with the Canadian Anti Fraud Agency, a federal body that supports law enforcement.
“Last year we had close to $100 million, I think it was $99 million in reported losses just from mass marketing fraud scams. So it’s certainly a significant problem.”
But he admitted local police forces face growing challenges in dealing with online or telephone scammers.
WATCH: March is Fraud Protection Month…what you need to know
Investigators need to look at where the scam is coming from, where the money is going and where the victim is located. Often they’re all in different places.
“In some cases you might have three different jurisdictions involved, whether that be three different jurisdictions in Canada or internationally.”
Those challenges are made worse by new technologies like bitcoin, which render transactions are almost untraceable, he added.
At the end of the day Thompson said the public needs to be increasingly cautious, and wary about sharing information with anyone that reaches out online or by phone claiming to be an official.
CRA officials, if they do ever phone, will not demand money or make threats, nor will they come to your door.
He said anyone who has been victimized’s best option is still to go to their local police.